Wednesday, 16 April 2014

I can't believe it's taken me THIS LONG to write about THIS TOPIC!

Here's a question for you: what is the human race's greatest evolutionary accomplishment?

From Freddie's perspective, no one in this photo is taking advantage of it!

This guy is, however.

Freddie's opinions notwithstanding, I'm guessing the most common answer to my question would be our Big, Fat Brain. Although Australopithecus afarensis (above) is a pretty fit and human-looking fellow, apparently even the smartest of his species would have had trouble filling out a tax return or composing an essay on global warming ... maybe even lacing up a pair of shoes.

So, yes, our Homo sapien brain is an obvious candidate for the evolution prize. But that organ has also gotten us into a lot of deep doo-doo (like, say, global warming?). So I'm going to go out on a limb (an activity our prehistoric ancestors were very adept at) and say that our greatest evolutionary success is ..... BIPEDALISM. Upright walking!

Which isn't, maybe, an indefensible point to argue. After all, if our species had never straightened up — freeing the hands, giving the eyes distant horizons to look at — would our brains have accomplished all that they have?

In any case, walking — After Midnight, On Sunshine, Like an Egyptian — is a very fine thing, and a blog titled Walking With Freddie should certainly have something to say about the topic!

Before I get much further, however, I must acknowledge that, of course, not everyone can walk. Injury, illness, developmental mishaps, etc. mean that we're not all pedestrians, at least not all the time — and that kind of sucks. Many people find other ways of reaping similar benefits, though, and I hope that if I ever lose the ability to propel myself on my own two pegs I'll find a workable alternative ... and that I'll continue to find pleasure in the Platonic idea of walking.

On a related note, plenty of bigger brains than mine have thought about the physical/psychological/philosophical/cognitive/social/spiritual wonders of walking. Our good friend Bruce, a philosophy prof at Thompson Rivers University, teaches whole courses on walking. His many fascinating sub-topics include such things as the connection between walking and Romanticism and "walking as a subversive act in the age of the car." Now, doesn't that make you want to sign up? It does me!

This blog post (and the next one) are clearly just baby steps in the big field of thinking about walking, but if they inspire any of you, my dear readers, to ponder your pedalism, then I'll consider them a success.

In thinking about my own walking life, I'm struck today by something I've always taken for granted: I walked to school. Every day, four times a day (I usually went home for lunch), in all weathers (uphill both ways, of course), kindergarten to grade twelve. Sometimes with a friend, but usually alone.

I even walked home after fainting in grade one, just before the 3:00 bell. It was hot, and I was overdressed. I guess my teacher thought that removing my woolly cardigan and sending me off for a nice walk in the fresh air was the best thing to do, and she was probably right.

In any case, I realize now that all that walking to and from school was really quite an important part of my youth. Aside from gym class, it was the only rigorously regular form of exercise I got. Walking kept me connected to the outside world and the changing seasons (more dramatic back in Montreal, where my commuter footwear ranged from loafers to fake mukluks to welly boots to sandals). Most importantly, perhaps, it gave me quiet thinking time — every day, four times a day.

22 Feet A-Walkin'

Sometimes Freddie and I walk past elementary schools in the morning and see strings of cars dropping off kids. I know people have all sorts of reasons, some more compelling than others, for driving their kids to school. But whatever the reason(s), I can't help thinking those young'uns are missing out on something.

And now, as a working adult, even though I bicycle to the college where I teach (towing Freddie in his trailer), and even though I tend to pace back and forth at the front of the classroom, I sometimes wish my job required me to walk. Substantial distances, every day. Like, say .....

a Postie!

I'm sure that delivering the daily mail would, like any gig, have its drawbacks (some of which I've learned about from my friend Gary). But I also think it would be very groovy — especially if I had Freddie along.

Maybe Freddie and I could pioneer our college's first ambulatory English classes. Now, that would be groovy.

Anyway, stay tuned for the next installment of WWF, in which our top reasons for the grooviness of walking will be revealed!

Happy Trails!


  1. Oh honey, is this a topic for the disabled! I used to LOVE walking everywhere. It was like meditation for me. I miss it terribly. Today, I walked around Trout Lake and thought I might faint from the effort. I had to lie on ice when I got home. Bipedalism is the downfall of strong backs, in my opinion. If I could have my good brain and opposable thumbs, I'd be thrilled to be quadrupedal. In fact, at home, I often am as it's so much easier and less painful when I'm doing tasks: just fall to my knees and sit back on my ankles when I need my hands, and crawl from point A to B. This is what it has come to.

    And our job does require quite a bit of walking, as I well know.

    Still, if all the able bodied people would get off their butts and walk, it would be okay for the disabled like me to own cars. The planet could handle it. As it is, my electric mobility scooter is on its way... some day.

    1. I thought of you, Charlotte, when I wrote this post. May our wretched physical afflictions, yours and mine, find relief in our lifetimes. A tall order, I know!

    2. Wouldn't that be nice, eh? You never know. We're still young. Science could get there. But I'm not holding my breath. I worry about the onset of old age, which people say is full of aches and pains. How on earth can I handle any more than I already have?!?

  2. Interesting post, Heather! I'm surprised, though, that you assigned the male gender to Australopithecus afarensis, since the first skeletal remains of that species (and so far the earliest hominid known to have been truly bipedal) was of a female, Lucy (named for the Beatles song, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.") As far as we know at present, the first known bipedal hominid was a woman!

    I appreciate what you say about people who are unable to walk in the conventional sense, but I would think that even those people are capable of moving about using their bodies in some fashion, and I wouldn't want to lose sight of the importance of embodied movement through space, in whatever form, however mediated by various technologies (so long as the person is not encased in an automobile). The Platonic Idea of walking sounds too... idealist. There is a physical act of living bodies involved here.

    Nice photos!

    Cheers, Bruce

    1. Thanks, Bruce!

      Yep, I thought about Lucy, but the Australopithecus drawing that I refer to seems to be of the male persuasion (judging from the chest region), so I went with that.

      I hope my post doesn't suggest that I've lost sight of the value of other sorts of movement. Since conventional walking is what I have the most experience with, and since I do really dig the idea (Idea?) of one foot in front of the other, that's what I've chosen to yak about. :)

    2. For many of the disabled, all forms of movement cause pain. We must move to live but movement is fraught. The joy and release it brings for the able-bodied is not available to us or is tainted by the pain. Every physical act is an act of courage, a choice to endure the pain for some necessity or reward (feeding ourselves, seeing a friend, bathing). With this comes a constant burden of choice, guilt, and negotiations with the future: "If I do this today, I'l pay for it tomorrow. I'm being bad but it's worth it." Movement is not longer a righteous act -- exercise, saving the environment, fitness, etc -- but is instead one fraught with guilt because it will render one even less mobile, for an hour, for a day, for a week. Inactivity also causes guilt: feelings of laziness, basic chores remaining undone, letting family members pick up the slack, the possibility of becoming even weaker and therefore being in even more pain.

      So, yes, we can still "move through space" but nothing is the same at all.

  3. While I love moving around on two legs (indeed, it's all I really know), I think if I we were all walking on fours, or swimming, or flying, most of us would still enjoy self-propulsion just as much. Pardon me shaking the limb you're on, but I'm definitely going to have to go with the typical evolutionary prize winner: the brain! Or, more specifically, our ability to record and pass on knowledge -- without this unique ability, I think we'd be still be hunting with sticks and inventing the wheel once a generation.

    1. Thanks, Anonymous! Yes, I think that limb I'm out on is very flimsy indeed. I'll need either my brainpower or a sudden ability to fly to get off it unscathed!

    2. If we weren't bipedal, we wouldn't have all that brainpower. Movement on two feet has two great advantages. One, it uses far less energy, leaving much more energy available for brain growth (I am not making this up-- this theory is a leading contender in paleoanthropology). Second, walking on our hind limbs (legs) leaves our forelimbs (arms) free to manipulate objects and make tools, without which there would have been no technology or art, and so no culture. Intelligence, too, is embodied: it needs a big brain and free arms, at the end of which are hands with opposable thumbs-- and if we were quadrupeds, opposable thumbs would not have been an option (too hard to walk on).-- Bruce

    3. Very groovy. I was aware of the hands-free implications of walking but not the efficiency = more resources for brain development theory. The thinking stands up, however. ;-)

  4. Well I hope I'm not going out on a limb here but I really enjoyed this post Heather. A real step in the right direction, though it's so important you can walk before you run!

    1. You're too funny, Rev. Cousin! I want to take Freddie walking in Scotland!

  5. Also a piece with a lot of sole!


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